One of the things we find ourselves saying to clients time and time again is ‘we’re not artists’.
Obviously the difference is quite clear in certain ways (nobody has asked us to paint their portrait or create an installation for them… yet), but there are times when the boundaries between the two disciplines become blurred.
We like to think of ourselves as creative people – and hope that our work does a decent job at backing that point up for us – but the distinction between creating art and what we do comes down to the fact that we have a job to do on behalf of someone else. In many ways, our work has very little to do with us.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re passionate and precious about the work and do slavishly pour over every little detail, even those that are sure to never get noticed. Using our ideas, our skills and our expertise to do the work is vital to the work being our own and something we can take pride in. But we’re certainly not trying to use the work as a means to express ourselves. If a client simply doesn’t like something we’ve done, we don’t dramatically rip up our Pantone swatch book and cry over our Wacom pads. It’s fine. We either explain the reasons behind why we made the design decision in the first place, and why we feel that sticking with it would make for a more effective piece of design work. Or we set about exploring possible alternative ways to achieve the best result for the piece of work, whilst avoiding that typeface / layout / colour that the client passionately hates without being able to articulate exactly why.
As ever, the brilliant Milton Glaser summed it up perfectly when he said;
“Design is not art. Design is to Art what journalism is to poetry.
One informs you, the other changes you”.
We think this relatively subtle difference is incredibly important and, at times, easily forgotten. The designer needs to use the work to inform. Your voice should be used only to accurately and articulately communicate the message of others. Self expression has no place in design and the focus should always be to speak on behalf of the client. Our job is to find out what they’ve got to say and to use our skills and knowledge to ensure that the message is clearly received and understood by the right people. As soon as you start trying to work your own thoughts, feelings or opinions into your design work, you begin to blur the line.
And, to be fair, the line is relatively thin. Visual communication in any form involves using subtle nuances and aesthetic cues that can often be interpreted in a number of different ways. These subtleties must be used to communicate fairly complex messages to a broad and varied audience. At times, you ask the audience to do some of the work themselves and make up their own mind about what the meaning behind the work is. There are clear similarities between the two worlds, but the whole point of design is the fact that it has a point. It has a job to do – Informing the audience. This predetermined and clearly defined purpose is what puts design into a different category to art.
Oscar Wilde’s famous quote that “All art is quite useless!” illustrates the point (he was quite good at hitting the nail on the head too). Art doesn’t need to have the practical functionality of design. If you see a piece of art that leaves you baffled and confused, it certainly hasn’t failed in doing it’s job. The same can’t be said for design. If you’re not informed by what you see, you haven’t been looking at design.
Thanks for reading and as ever, we’d love to know if you if agree / disagree.
Phil & Tom